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Total number of comments: 30 (since 2011-08-15 23:36:36)

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  • David Brooks's romance of community
    • I do share Brooks's dislike for the direction Republicans have taken, but my "specific idea" was that the country is getting torn apart by intemperate opiners. As I implied, I don't have a very high opinion of Brooks as a thinker or a writer, but seeing all the rhetorical heavy artillery unleashed on his books, out of proportion to the offensiveness about he actually says about social stratification or neuropsychology, makes me have a certain sympathy with somebody who gets caught in the crossfire, something which has happened to me and people I know often enough. If we're not allowed to express a little human sympathy sometimes, things are worse than I thought.

    • "I’ve always liked Brooks because he’s actually interested in meaning and he’s such a clear writer."

      I'm not sure I agree with your assessment, but it's hard not to have at least a small soft spot for somebody who manages to be so hated and despised by both the right and the left.

      Without ever expecting very much from Brooks, it can be fun to see just how much he sets some people's teeth on edge.

  • 'The clash of civilizations’ theory is absolutely and completely dead
    • How so? Aren't we seeing a split between Orthodox and Western Christian "civilizations" right now? If the idea was that different "civilizations" were always going to be in conflict, it's wrong and silly, and maybe pernicious, but if the idea was that the lines of potential division in the world follow the borders between different religio-cultural blocs, there's something to be said for it.

      What happened with this idea in the 1990s was typical of political-intellectual life, or just of human nature. The Cold War ends and ideological conflicts appear to dry up. Scholars and journalists ask, what might divide the world now, where might the next conflicts arise. They hit on the idea of different civilizations as engines of conflict and the idea takes off from there. It's taken for a fact and used to explain whatever happens in the world. Speculation becomes 911 probably did a lot to make the idea more popular, and to many people, more convincing.

      I'm not sure we can wholly dismiss the idea of civilizational clash. Borders between "civilizations" are still places where conflict is likely to happen (the break-up of Yugoslavia, where Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, and Islam meet did a lot to promote the theory), but any evidence that our future won't be an endless war between civilizations is certainly welcome news.

  • Leonard Bernstein cared more about Israel than sex
    • Bernstein did sign a petition against a Gush Emumim settlement on the West Bank in 1979. I think. It's hard to find out now on the Internet who signed what protest and when. Whether and how Bernstein's position would have evolved had he lived longer is something we can only speculate about.

  • Miley Cyrus, sociologist
    • As with Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes, just about anything Miley nowadays says is bound to be moronic. How could it be otherwise? Look at her parents. And her performances.

      Relations between recording artists and record companies have long been tense, with many charges and allegations against "record company weasels." I don't know who ran Hollywood Records when Miley was there, but the founder was Michael Eisner. Then she moved on to RCA, which was run by the legendary Clive Davis for some time, though he had moved to Sony before she signed. This doesn't excuse her comment, but the line between the "iconic" and the "stereotypic" can be blurry sometimes.

      FWIW, when I saw the teaser, "Miley Cyrus says she's not taking advice from some 70-year old Jewish guy behind a desk," I assumed she was talking about psychoanalysis.

  • The education of Samantha Power
    • Power lost her chance of getting into President Obama's first administration because of her comments about Hillary Clinton, but her earlier remarks about Israel didn't help. This time around she's going to guarantee that there's no daylight between her position and that of Israel's militant supporters.

      See the wildly satirical Exile article from 2009 about the Power-Sunstein-Nussbaum romantic triangle (warning on some dirty language in there).

      It's so cutting and cruel and spot-on, it almost makes me feel sorry for Power and her whole privileged and entitled UChicago circle.

  • 'Arrested Development' creator says Jews are too 'beloved' to be stereotyped
    • A very awkward moment to be sure. It's hard to know what to do with it or how far to analyze it. I notice some Jewish online writers assume that the family was in some way Jewish because of the show's "Jewish" humor, and wonder if Hurwitz was taken by surprise by Gross's question.

      What was interesting about the show in this regard was how they played with whether the family was Jewish or not. You saw that more with the parents, who were played by Jeffrey Tambour and Jessica Walter, than with the children, who were (I believe) played by non-Jewish actors.

      Tambor's character, George Sr., has a religious epiphany when the light passing through his prison bars falls in the shape of a star of David. Walter's Lucille falls within the stereotype of the cold WASP mother, though there's some play with "Jewish mother" stereotypes as well, particularly in her relationship to Oscar.

      Some of the minor characters (as played by Henry Winkler, Bob Einstein, Jeff Garlin, Ben Stiller, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) may also be Jewish, though it's certainly true that that isn't foregrounded and the humor isn't as broad as it is with the Mexican, Korean, or African-American characters.

      You do have this exchange from the show to weigh against Hurwitz's off-the cuff comment, though:

      Jessie Bowers [the family publicist]: [George Sr. has just become a devout Jew] Your father is religious now?
      Michael: Yeah.
      Jessie Bowers: We'll play that up, it's very sympathetic.
      Lucille: Yeah, who doesn't love the Jews?

  • George Orwell would hate Israel
    • Orwell was critical of Zionism in his day and had some understanding of its negative consequences. That's according to his colleagues on "The Tribune," It wasn't something Orwell wrote much about -- not when Hitler was still around or a recent memory.

      In his "Notes on Nationalism" Orwell described Zionism as a "direct" rather than a "transferred" nationalism, "because it flourishes almost exclusively among the Jews themselves." He missed the phenomenon of Christian Zionism, which was present in his day in Britain, though not as strong as it is in today's America. It also looks like he missed the fact that many of the most passionate Zionists, then and now, had no desire to settle in Palestine or Israel.

      The distinction between direct and transferred nationalism is important, but the line is fuzzy. Diaspora politics or diaspora nationalism -- the attachment of emigrants and their descendants to a homeland they don't have a desire to return to, a familiar phenomenon in American life -- was something Orwell was aware of, but not something he looked into very deeply.

      The concept of "transferred nationalism" -- in spite of Orwell's own caveat -- is relevant to the study of Zionism. Latching onto a foreign country or people and investing it with positive emotion and idealizing it, makes it possible for someone "to be much more nationalistic — more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest — than he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge." That's true of other political enthusiasms as well, but it does bring to mind Americans who feel more attached to Benjamin Netanyahu than to their own elected officials.

  • Washington Post's racism map omits Israel
    • Much of what's measured here is how honest or how afraid or how indoctrinated people are, and we really don't know what the methodology was. How did they get enough data on some very small countries or very large countries or countries it would have been hard to conduct a survey in? What to do about people who have an intense antipathy to one particular group who don't profess any general hostility to people "of another race"?

      Also, people often judge their own country based on where they live and their immediate circle of acquaintances. Few nations are that small or that homogeneous. I don't have a problem believing that Germany is 5% more prejudiced than the United States (whatever that may in fact mean), or that the United States is 5% more prejudiced than Germany, or that a few highly bigoted people in one country are outweighed by many more people who are certainly prejudiced though to a lesser degree (or that the results are skewed by the means used to gather them). Every country has its affluent, educated, metropolitan "bubble" and its more insular hinterland (but is the "bubble" really as unprejudiced and cosmopolitan as it supposes?).

  • 'NYT' runs another piece warning people not to intermarry during delusory secular interval of 30s and 40s
    • Philip, she does close by writing: "So while I recognize that the diminishment of religious institutions and a rise in marital instability could be among the long-term effects of interfaith marriages, I cannot wish for the tide to ebb. Nor do I think it will." I don't think the two of you are really on opposite sides. Or at least there is some common ground of agreement.

      Her study, or at least how she presents her results look questionable. Interfaith marriages are less common than the numbers she provides would indicate, unless I've misunderstood her findings. Also, I wonder just how prescriptive she's being and how descriptive. The older one is, the less having children is an issue, the more likely one is to intermarry. Perhaps that is a fact that both proponents and opponents of intermarriage can live with.

  • The false equivalence of liberal Zionists
    • "Very odd for Cohen to invoke Jews as witnesses that there is no “right of return” when the state of Israel is premised on the idea that there is a Jewish right of return."

      I don't understand that either.

      Is it just a throwaway line tossed in to end debate, or is there any substance to what he says?

      Is Cohen confusing the asserted "right of return" with the unwillingness of many Diaspora Jews to make use of that asserted "right"?

      In any case it's a strange statement to insert into his article and just leave hanging without explanation or documentation.

  • 'NYT' equates Palestinian suicide-bombers to CT school-killer
    • Of course, there have been Israeli Jews who went on shooting rampages: Ami Popper, Baruch Goldstein, Eden Natan-Zara, all of whom killed Arabs in mass shootings.

      What's revealing and depressing is that academics and other experts who give their opinions after such incidents inevitably refer to their own latest book or some idée fixe that they just can't shake.

      They just repeat some message they'd formulated long before the horrors. It's hard to find one who actually thinks seriously about the particular incident and formulates an opinion based on the facts before them.

  • On '60,' Stahl says Spielberg experienced 'serious anti-Semitic attacks'
    • Steven looks like a classic target of bullying: the new kid, awkward, a loner, parents who didn't fit in that well either, distant father. Someone in that position didn't have to be Jewish to be bullied, but in the 1960s it's wouldn't have been impossible or surprising if there was an anti-Semitic element.

      But there was a certain amount of interpretation involved. If kids say something under their breath and pretend to cough, are they saying "Jew" every time? If somebody throws something hard at you, are they throwing coins as a reference to stereotypes of Jews?

      It could be. But it may not always be the case that ethnic hostility was involved. The conclusions Spielberg came to may have been the right ones at the time, but they may also explain if he gets things wrong now by coming to the same conclusions in situations where they aren't warranted.

    • "California has always been a different, more tolerant and urban place than Arizona. True back then, true today."

      Northern California, maybe, but Los Angeles and Orange County in the fifties were very different from what they are now.

      Spielberg also has stories of his high school days in Saratoga, outside San Jose. I don't know what to make of them. He must have faced some bullying and some anti-Semitism, but possibly in remembering the past Steven and his mother may have turned a lot of non-ethnic bullying into anti-Semitism. It may also have been easier for him to explain teasing and fights to his parents by seeing them as motivated by ethnic prejudice.

      I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been the only Jewish kid in school either in Scottsdale or in Saratoga. Perhaps he was singled out for other reasons, not related to his religion. Perhaps there was enmity between kids or their families. Maybe visits by Orthodox relatives made him appear more Jewish than other Jewish children. As I said, there was probably something there, but not necessarily exactly what he remembers. Pretty clearly, he related incidents of bullying in school to his Jewishness, when that may not have been the case.

      More here:

      '"And to this day I haven't gotten over it, nor have I forgiven any of them," he told an interviewer years later. And he still doesn't suffer anti-Semites gladly. Recently, he purchased a car for a friend from a Santa Monica, California, dealer. The salesman boasted after the sale, "I just got a Jew to pay full price for a car!" Somehow this comment got back to Spielberg, and he cancelled the order. The horrified owner of the dealership apologized profusely, but Spielberg refused to reinstate the order.'

      A lot of people wouldn't be so quick to assume that such a rumor was true.

  • Stop calling him 'Bibi'
    • I don't know whether Biden's really aware that it's a nickname when he uses it. Certainly he must have heard him called Benjamin or Binyamin, but you can never tell what politicians retain and how they process it.

      As with any nickname, there's a thin line between affection and contempt. It's a little ironic that "habibi" should be an Arabic term of affection, though.

  • Aharon Appelfeld's rage at the German language (and Arendt's need for it)
    • As you say, Appelfeld comes from Czernowitz/Cernăuţi/Chernovtsy, a city that was successively Austrian, Romanian, Soviet, and Ukrainian. His ties to German may not be that strong. Then again, Paul Celan, a Jewish writer from the city who's parents died in Nazi labor camps wrote in German and is considered the great postwar German poet. But Appelfeld may have been thinking of Celan's unhappy end. Perhaps he thought a clean break preferable to living with ghosts and regrets.

      Given that Appelfeld writes mostly about European Jews in the interwar years, it's both expected and a bit odd that he writes in Hebrew. With that subject matter it's expected that he'd want to make a break with that world, but he must be aware that writing about a German- or Yiddish-speaking world in Hebrew may give a different color or texture to experiences.

      Has anyone read Appelfeld's latest? “Until the Dawn’s Light,” written in the nineties and only published in English last year. From the reviews it seemed like tired stuff, though like much that he wrote it's certainly relevant to the concerns expressed here.

  • 'J Post' says David Remnick is 'conflicted' and 'born of Jewish parents'
    • Hackensack is suburban and funny-sounding. Writing that Remnick comes from there is definitely a put-down.

      I wonder how much of the New Yorker's current position grows out of Remnick-Hertzberg dualism. My theory is that Remnick and the magazine fell under the influence of his political editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, and what appears in the magazine reflects Hertzberg's influence or Remnick's struggles to escape it.

      Remnick's original field of interest was Russian and the Soviet Union. He wasn't that concerned with American politics. In my theory, the articles on domestic politics reflect Hertzberg's thinking. Articles on Israel and the Middle East would fall into the gray area in between Hertzberg's interests and Remnick's.

      It's just a theory, though, and perhaps impossible to verify (in so far as what you can't ascribe to Hertzberg's influence you can attribute to Remnick's efforts to break free and remain his own man).

  • On the passing of Novick: the political limitations of 'The Holocaust in American Life'
    • I think you've read the quote accurately, but with the proper "scare quotes" inserted, with "God" to mean the idea of the Biblical God, it's something a secularist or universalist could say. Foxman most likely didn't intend it that way, but the bare words aren't inconsistent with much "God is dead" holocaust theology.

  • Jack Ross in Brooklyn tonite-- on Elmer Berger and the 'foreign nationalism' of Zionism
    • I look forward to reading the book. But consider how much the US has changed since 1950. That old insular America is gone.

      Ethnic self-awareness and assertiveness and multicultural ideology mean that the older way of single overpowering loyalties doesn't carry the force that it once did.

      You can see this idea of cultural pluralism or "transnational America" beginning with Randolph Bourne and early American Zionist Horace Kallen a century ago.

      For good or ill, rich imperial America seems almost to demand to be treated as something more than a nation or state in the ordinary sense, and the idea of the United States as a "nation of nations" allows for multiply loyalties of the sort that Zionism exemplifies. Whether it should or not is different from whether it in fact does.

  • Columbia U book on Iraq war suggests Wolfie, Feith, Wurmser and Perle had 'Israeli interests, not just U.S. interests at heart'
    • "Author Paul Pillar has a stellar Establishment reputation."

      That makes him ... "Pillar, of the Establishment"?

  • 'The Social Network' and the Acceptance World
    • Young people who are cynically rising up the system and young people who have become cynical about the system and reject it: are they the same people? Is it the same phenomenon? Are there two groups or one? Do young occupiers and young entrepreneurs feel some kinship to one another? Is one kind of cynicism likely to increase and the other to decline in the future?

      There may be some support for your argument in the response to Steve Jobs's passing. Very different groups of people with very different values took him for a hero. But this undercuts the idea that today's young are different. Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg were not so very different, were they?

      Also, what do you mean by "the acceptance world"? Yes, it's a book title, but what does it mean and how are you using it?

  • Is portrait of Mark Zuckerberg in 'The Social Network' anti-Semitic?
    • You're picking up on the ethnically-coded materials, but they doesn't wholly define or describe the Zuckerberg character. Or do they? I suppose if you're more sensitive to those things they might, but is it a kind of bigotry to see a character only in an ethnic light, to see the Jewishness in computer whiz as dominating over other characteristics?

      So much of the film reflects Aaron Sorkin's own preoccupations. Here's an article attacking him for misogyny and demeaning Jewish women. And here's one arguing that he really takes the side of Zuckerberg as the Jewish upstart who comes out on top in the end.

      Maybe Sorkin's the liberal arts grad who is repelled by the single-mindedness and social cluelessness of the successful technological entrepreneur, yet also a little proud of the success of someone from a similar background. If Aaron Sorkin has a developed self-consciousness he probably can't help seeing something of himself in Mark Zuckerberg.

    • "It reminds me of this recent article in Commentary by a very old Jew."

      John Steele Gordon is now a senior citizen, almost part of that "Mad Men" generation, but it's not clear that he's Jewish. Judging from his background, Millbrook School and Vanderbilt, two grandfathers on the New York Stock Exchange, he may actually be one of those hated WASPs, or if part-Jewish, he's very assimilated.

      You didn't have to be Jewish to end up hating John Lindsay.

    • Good topic, but sometimes a film character is just a film character. I don't doubt that the movie's Zuckerberg isn't exactly the real Mark Zuckerberg. Liberties were taken both to make the story more dramatic and to include the film makers' own preoccupations.

      The obsession with final clubs was Aaron Sorkin's. Maybe you can go to Exeter and Harvard today without taking much interest in old WASP institutions and rituals, but you can't write an Ivy-related success story and escape the influence of Fitzgerald and Gatsby. If Zuckerberg had been preoccupied with making Porcellian or Fly or Spee, he wouldn't have invented Facebook (or whatever it was he did that got him all that money).

      But anti-Semitic? No, a film portrayal of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates might have been similar, stressing the nerdish, anti-social aspects and ruthlessness, without being anti-Arab or anti-WASP.

      The Summers' portrait, though, was interesting. It didn't look entirely believable. How accurate was it? Has Harvard ever had a president like that before?

  • Lauren Pierce needs a history lesson
    • See George Orwell on direct and transferred nationalism. Orwell considered Zionism a direct nationalism because he assumed that only Jews would be passionate about Zionism and that Zionist Jews would want to live in Palestine/Israel. Even in his own day, he was wrong in those assumptions.

      Today, among both American Jews and American gentiles, Zionism is a powerful form of transferred nationalism. It's certainly stronger than the kinds of exoticism and cultural nostalgia that Orwell relegated under that label. One is free to speculate as to what Lauren Pierce's Zionist enthusiasm is "really about": Israel, the Jews, the Bible, America, Christianity, Texas, or something else.

  • Saul Bellow didn't like WASPs
    • Did Bellow become more bitter with age or just more set in his ways? Some people grow older and come to relish being difficult and embattled. They aren't embittered; they positively thrive on their enmities. Hatred or anger or argumentativeness is toxic when combined with failure, but can be a tonic for those who don't feel that they've failed.

      Bellow clearly did have trouble with women. You can read Vivian Gornick's analysis of Bellow's and Roth's misogyny. She sees it as a way of maintaining that sense of being in the minority, of struggling against the odds. Having won success, Bellow and Roth set up the women in their lives as the oppressor figures, and thus kept the vitality and energy of their earlier years. Gornick would see Bellow's grudge against the old WASP establishment and his hostility to women as two aspects of the same complex.

      But of course, Bellow wouldn't have seen things that way. Samuel Johnson called second marriages "the triumph of hope over experience." Something similar could be said for third, fourth, and fifth marriages. Bellow, so we're told, was happy with Janis, his last wife. It may not have lasted if he'd lived longer, but disillusionment hadn't yet set in.

    • I was under the impression that Bellow -- well, mellowed as he grew older, but there's always the temptation in the old to return to return to their "greatest hits" and reopen old wounds.

      See this interview (if that's what it was) with Harold Bloom -- link to thejewishweek.com

      “Christianity? Christianity?” he said in a recent phone interview, when asked about his views on the Christian interpretation of Judaism. “The New Testament is a violently anti-Semitic reading of the Hebrew Bible.”
      Interfaith groups that try to patch over the differences today, he went on, do so in vain: “Christianity is our enemy. It’s an uncomfortable truth that nobody wants to deal with. It’s a ghastly religion founded on the cross, a symbol of torture.”

      If it's legit, it's not exactly what you'd expect someone to have gleaned from a lifetime of wide and close reading, but in old age many return to the comforting prejudices of youth.

  • For neoconservatives, Israel is a foreign and domestic issue
    • Reading the excerpt I was going to object that Luban left the Cold War out of his account, but if you read the whole article it's very much present.

      It's not like neoconservative ideas about the Middle East evolved in a vacuum. On the contrary, a lot of their thinking had roots in the liberal anti-Communism of the post-WWII period.

      Separating out what was specifically Jewish or Zionist or Israel-oriented from wider Cold War concerns and determining which was more important at one time or another isn't always easy.

      After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Middle Eastern concerns came to prevail among neocons, while many of their Cold War allies didn't always come to share that perspective.

  • Nationalism reduced religious tolerance in Middle East
    • Nationalism was closely tied to democracy and "modernization." And to religion as well. Greeks, Romanians, and Bulgarians wanted national states that would represent their own cultures. Imitation of Western states had much to do with it, as did the sense of being Christian and perhaps even "European." So religion was in a sense present at the beginning of the process, and this was well before WWI and the British and French became major powers in the region.

      You can see a parallel between Traub and those who are nostalgic for the Hapsburg monarchy. The Ottomans and Hapsburgs weren't the worst of rulers. It's hard to argue that the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy wasn't better than what Central Europe would see in the mid-20th century. But it's also hard to see how the Hapsburgs or Ottomans could have lasted into an age of democratic and nationalist passions. The older monarchical and aristocratic trans-national power structure was so different from the ideas that were on the rise that it's hard to see how a crack-up could have been avoided.

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